Another year is over and what a year it has been for The Language Hub. We said hello to new colleagues and customers and wished others well on their adventures and projects elsewhere, we had to deal with extreme weather, we expanded twice, and we dealt with a whole lot of other challenges.
For me, personally, 2018 was always going to be challenging, as it was the year in which my maternity leave came to an end and I had to face reality again. Luckily, I knew my son could come with me during daytime, and with our fabulous toy corner he could even occasionally entertain himself. Obviously, I didn’t know how drastically this would all change once he was on the move, but that’s another story. And so, the Hub became our second home where he had his first solid meal of boiled carrots, climbed stairs by himself (that cheeky monkey) and explored the world of modern languages in many of the bounce & rhyme sessions and in ‘conversation’ with our multi-lingual staff and the many lovely customers and visitors that come through our door every day. And this is how I became a working mum alongside my wonderful business partner Michèle, who, obviously, lead by example.
With our kids in the background and sometimes right in our faces, we planned courses, applied for funding, taught classes, made coffees and then there it was – the Beast from the East. We looked out of the window and knew we needed to act immediately. So, we sent our staff home, phoned our learners to cancel their classes, made sure all the switches were off, and then braced ourselves for the journey home. When we arrived, it became clear that we were not going anywhere for a couple of days. With our staff snowed in, no public transport running and roads closed, Michèle braved the walk from her home to the Hub to get all the information to pay our staff on time. Luckily, we could take it in our stride and enjoyed a couple of days off in what was going to be a busy year.
Once we were back at work we wasted no time and got back to business. We introduced Arabic classes for adults with great success, we added more of our popular conversation classes in different languages, we held free bilingual book readings at local libraries, we offered free child-care at community centres for refugee women learning English and we organised our regular Brexit meetings where members of the public and politicians got together to voice their thoughts and concerns. In the philosophy of our organisation, the forum was open to everyone and all opinions, and non-partisan. Not everyone seemed to agree with our activities and soon we were facing not only disgruntled e-mails from a journalist, but we received a letter from Companies House to tell us that a complaint had been lodged against us. Of course, this was something we could have done without, but as we had done nothing wrong, there was nothing to worry about and the issue was quickly dealt with. Unlike Brexit, which had been weighing heavily on our minds ever since the referendum. Not only had we been plagued by Brexit-related insecurities in our own personal lives and the lives of our staff, but we knew our business may suffer quite severe consequences, because, with the exception of Michèle, none of our staff had a British passport. Indeed, mid-year, one of our valued members of staff announced that she would be leaving the UK after residing in Scotland for 15 years. This was a blow and we felt it was only the beginning. With the number of applications for teaching positions and internships from EU countries falling, we were looking at a challenging future, and there had been times when we questioned what we were doing and how much we had invested in a business that may not survive Brexit.
When, finally, a long-awaited unit in Keith Court became available, it was crunch-time. We knew we needed to expand or close. But being who we are we expanded and celebrated the opening of our second and bigger unit at 19 Keith Street on 19th August with food, activities and lovely guests and well-wishers. Little did we know that only a few months later, we would be looking at another expansion, this time into the desirable and larger unit that until then was the home of coffee shop For Fika Sake. Fika’s manager, Simon kindly handed over the keys to us before we started our lease and we could already change a few things and make it our own as well as familiarise ourselves with the venue before opening The Café Hub on 1st December.
Thanks to our wonderful staff old and new who stepped up to the mark and supported the Hub in every way they could, we were now the owners of a thriving wee coffee shop, an event venue and a gallery. On 14th December, our resident artist and gallerist, Marta Adamowicz launched her winter exhibition of local artists in the Café Hub with great success. And so, after a hard few weeks and months, we closed our doors for a short while to allow busy elves to paint the walls and turn the mezzanine in a multi-functional space for exhibitions and workshops.
We look forward to what 2019 has in store for us. And despite the obvious white elephant in the room, we can’t wait for the challenges, the fun, the laughter and the excitement the year will bring us, our staff and our customers.
Happy New Year to all!